All posts by rmh1

13-14 Enero Barcelona to Valencia

January 13-14, 1937

Robert Merriman’s diary from January 13 and 14, 1937

As we can see from the diary, Merriman remained in Barcelona until his train left for Valencia on the afternoon of the 13th.  Yellow notations in the text indicate words that still need research (confusion on the spelling of names and places).   The one marked Secord is believed to be his spelling of the name of American Volunteer Douglas Seacord but it would need confirmation that Seacord was in Barcelona at that time.

As a bit of background for those who don’t know the timeline of the war, between 13 and 16 July 1936, a number of Generals of the Spanish Army, including General Emilio Mola Vidal and Francisco Franco organized the Spanish Foreign Legion in Morocco to lead an “invasion” of Spain.  We cannot reproduce that history here but there are many excellent books on this uprising against the elected Republican Government of Spain.  We can recommend Hugh Thomas¹ , Anthony Beevor², and Paul Preston³ as three additional sources of the background and history of the war (we will be building up a reading list as we go along).  Preston’s book is particularly good to understand the major leaders of the Second Republic as well as the “forces of the invasion” as the Spanish called the Fascists. By late fall, International units from all over Europe had been mobilized to help the endangered Republic.  By November 1936, Franco had built two assaults on Madrid, one from the south and the other from the north by way of the Asturian coast.  The division of Spain is seen in a map from Thomas’ book.


Map 7 from Thomas1, showing the division of Spain at the uprising. Burgos became Franco’s capital during the war.

Madrid held in November 1936 with the mobilization of the Madrileños, fortifications on the west of Madrid and a major battle at University city in the northern suburbs.  Famous in IB history was the arrival of the German Thaelman Battalion to help.  The first group of 96 Americans to travel to Spain left New York the day after Christmas in 1936.  Douglas Seacord was one of that group.   “C.H.” and “Liston Oak” were baffling.  Alan Warren explained Liston Oak in a comment attached to this post.

Merriman talks of the bombing of a hospital in Barcelona in January with 10 dead.  We have yet to find the details of that event but there is an article by Laia Balcells in Reis from October-December 2011 (reference included in pdf) which describes the air war on Catalonia by the Franquistas.  La Vanguardia now allows access to their archive and we could find no record of a bombing of a ship in the harbor killing 10 people in that week’s papers.  There was a torpedo attack on the Ciudad de Barcelona reported on January 10 (it survived this attack) and the bombing of the English Embassy on January 15.

Jan 10 Bombing

Torpedo attack on two Spanish vessels including the Ciudad de Barcelona, which survived the attack.

British Embassy Bombing

Bombing of the British Embassy January 15, 1937 (La



Merriman also speaks of meeting Tom Wintringham, a commander of the British Battalion.  Wintringham is shown below and his book4 describes his exploits in Spain.   We will come across him several times in the next six months.


Tom Winteringham (credit:

And thanks to Chris Brooks’ comment where he points out that Kitty B.  is Kitty Bowler and Chris provided a link to her story with Wintringham.

¹ Hugh Thomas, The Spanish Civil War, Harper, New York, 1961

² Anthony Beevor, The Battle for Spain, Orbis Publishing, London, 2006

³ Paul Preston,  ¡Comrades! Portraits from the Spanish Civil War. London, UK: HarperCollins, 1999.

Tom Wintringham, English Captain, Faber, 1939

11-12 Enero Salud España!

January 11-12, 1937

Robert Merriman’s Diary for January 11 and 12, 1937

On January 11, 1937, Robert Merriman crossed into Spain by train and began the journey of his lifetime. The first few diary pages are from his impressions of Barcelona and Valencia as he moved southward to the Albacete training base of the International Brigades.

His traveling partner was Milly Bennett (Mildred Mitchell) who he joined up with in Paris.  Mildred was writing for a Russian newspaper at the time, but had been a reporter with the Daily News in San Francisco with wild experiences in China in the 1921.  Her own exploits were written up in a book “On Her Own: Journalistic Adventures from San Francisco to the Chinese Revolution, 1917-1927.”   Milly Bennett had been in China with William Burton, brother of another Lincoln Vet Wallace Burton, and they were in Spain, her as a reporter and Wallace to fight.  More on Wallace Burton later in the year.


Milly Bennett’s autobiography of her time in China with the only photo found of her at this time. (Courtesy: Matt White, web source)

Peter Carroll¹ describes their meeting in Paris:

“When Millie Bennett, correspondent for the Moscow News, entered Brentano’s bookshop on the rue Operá in Paris in early January 1937 in search of a Spanish dictionary, she was surprised to see her old Moscow drinking buddy, Robert Merriman, snatching books about Spain by the fistful…. Soon the two Californians were charging around Paris to buy a revolver, cartridges, and (with memories of the World War) gas masks to fit over their horn rimmed glasses”

The sentence starting the Diary was “From Paris with Milly Mitchell unusual united front” meaning that they two of them were an unusual united front.   We have been unable to decipher who “A.E., A.W” were.

As an example of the excitement that Merriman had for his experience in Barcelona, in the earlier diary pages from January 1 to 11, he had taken notes of the posters he had seen.  Here are two pages:

January 3-4

Pages from Robert Merriman’s diary describing signs he saw in Barcelona

January 5-6

More signs seen in Barcelona and Valencia


¹ Peter Carroll, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, Stanford University Press, 1994.